How an informative article from Windows on Art is born.

How a popular art history article from Windows on Art is created: from bibliographic research to writing and publication.

One of the reasons that has led Finestre sull’Arte to become one of the most read and followed art history sites in Italy is undoubtedly the effort we put into ensuring that our popularization articles reach particularly high standards of quality. Each popularizing contribution is in fact the result of studies and research that we try to “summarize” in articles presented clearly, without skipping passages, in easy language, so that the topics we decide to deal with from time to time can reach an audience that, in our intentions, wants to be as wide as possible, since we are convinced that art belongs to everyone and that, therefore, it should reach everyone. We therefore thought it would be interesting to talk to you, our readers, about the process that leads to the birth of a Windows on Art article. In a web where second-hand information abounds, articles copied from third-party sources, ill-concealed paraphrases of press releases passed off as reviews or, more simply, content that follows trends and makes so many blogs and websites appear to be a cast of each other, we want Windows on Art to continue to be a bastion of quality: or at least that is our intent. And we believe that making our audience perceive the kind of work behind our articles is another way to spread quality.

So how does an art history popularization article that can be read in our magazine come about? The first stage is, of course, the choice of topic. We tend to favor topics with which we are familiar, and if we are talking about a work of art we try to talk about works that we have seen live and are familiar with: this may also explain the slight preference we accord to certain topics over others. If in our magazine there are many articles dedicated, for example, to the art produced between Genoa and Florence, this is due, quite simply, to the fact that we reside in a land located, precisely, halfway between Genoa and Florence, and consequently we are more up-to-date on research concerning these areas rather than on other topics. However, this does not prevent us from covering topics of various kinds: we are curious and always open to new things.

The first thing we do whenever we decide on the topic of an article is a thorough literature search. And the best way to do a literature search is to start with the most recent contributions on the topic. To get to know them we conduct web searches, we go to analyze the catalogs of the latest exhibitions on the topic, and we also often ask art historians whom we trust.Since we started our project, we have come into contact with many good and professional art historians, we have created a kind of “network” that covers a good number of topics and periods, and these little “consultations” that our friends offer us are a valuable source of information for us. This way of approaching the early stages of research offers a twofold advantage: first, it helps us to have content that is as fresh and up-to-date as possible. The second, it allows us to more easily reconstruct the bibliography on the topic. And once the titles are gathered, we go looking for them. Mainly in two places: in the library and on Google Books. Or, in case of unavailability in the aforementioned sources, through purchases in bookstores or specialized portals (so we also enrich our little art library).

Un buon articolo si avvale sempre dei libri
A good article always makes use of books: these are some of the books we used for the article on the Sarzana cross

Looking through books is a practice we believe is indispensable. And it could not be otherwise: we believe that an article that is not supported by a careful reading of contributions on the subject is simply an article with no reason to exist. Proper and good dissemination is one that is based on bibliographic research that is as thorough as possible. What’s more, with Google Books this kind of research has become much easier than it used to be, when such a tool (which has become indispensable for us) did not exist and one was forced to long sessions at the library. In short, there is no excuse: Google Books makes it possible in many cases to have a minimum base from which to start even for those who cannot move from home. A base to be enriched, of course, in the library. In a 2015interview, Mina Gregori recalled how important it was, for an art historian, to consult the library, although the latter was considered a place to return to and not to start from: one always starts from the works, from the place where they are preserved. We think the assumption is also valid for those involved in outreach. Of course: you don’t always get it right, especially since the hectic times of the Web push you to have a constantly updated site so that you can better reach the public, but when you have time and a way to get to the works to see them live, we believe that on-site observation and study is a must. To many the assumption will seem obvious, but we are pretty sure that there are many sites that, in most cases, talk about works without having bothered to have seen them live. When we are allowed, we also try to photograph the works as best we can where they are located (this sometimes allows us to dwell on details and particulars that we wish to account for in our articles).

Research in scholarly journals is then another important phase of our work. Here again, the tools that the Web provides offer help that was unthinkable just a few years ago. Sites such as, Archive, jStor (which for some time now has made it possible to read three articles free of charge in fifteen days, after registering an account), as well as the sites of major journals and those of particular projects (such as the Digitale Bibliothek of the University of Heidelberg, which has digitized a good number of historical art journals, such as theHistorical Archives of Art and The Art of Adolfo Venturi) have become excellent research tools that we always consult when we have to write a new article. Finally, not to be underestimated is a look at the most valuable Italian and foreign websites and blogs, in addition to the classic Google search: we have often found interesting surprises (for example, exhibition catalogs digitized in PDF format and made available on the web) that have proved to be essential for writing a contribution.

Once the material has been gathered, we move on to the drafting of a rudimentary outline with all the steps to be addressed in the article (an outline that we often modify), decide on the form (the choice of verb tenses, for example, is also a decision to be made carefully) and then to the development, which must always be conducted on the basis of some basic principles of dissemination that can be summarized with appropriate questions: are we giving complete information to the reader? Are we accounting for all points of view or, at least, the main ones? Is what we are writing clear? Are we providing, to a possible reader who has never read anything on the subject, the necessary tools to fully understand the text? Or, are we providing them with material to go deeper? If we use technical terms, do we bother to explain them? Are the descriptions and information accurate enough? And so on. A series of re-readings (with appropriate corrections) and the text is ready: we then move on toimage processing (which needs to be optimized for web publication) and, when necessary, preparation of captions. Often, writing good captions requires special little research: think, for example, of the care required in reporting the dating of a work. Finally, the last task: draft the bibliography consulted in an acceptable form and put it at the bottom of the article. The article is then ready: all that remains is to publish it!

These are the steps that each of our contributions requires before being published: that is why we publish popular articles rather infrequently (one or two a week). Precisely because of the fact that this kind of work requires several hours. Necessary, however, to ensure a sure quality result for those who will read the contributions.

Warning: the translation into English of the original Italian article was created using automatic tools. We undertake to review all articles, but we do not guarantee the total absence of inaccuracies in the translation due to the program. You can find the original by clicking on the ITA button. If you find any mistake,please contact us.